Rajnaara Akhtar: Comments like these fan the flames of intolerance in Britain

Analysis
Click to follow
Indy Politics

Britain sets itself apart from many of its European allies.

Unlike France, its Muslim minorities are not largely relegated to ghettos and are prospering and contributing within its cities and professions. The numbers of doctors, lawyers and entrepreneurs boasted by the community is great, and the last general elections saw the number of MPs of Muslim faith double to eight.

If the niqab (or full-face veil) was ever banned in Britain, it would not be an "insignificant" 2,000 women who would be affected, but potentially tens of thousands.

While there are no conclusive figures for the number of Muslim women in Britain who veil their faces, the impact of even a proposal to ban it would be significant. It would fuel the mounting intolerance that some Muslim communities are facing, and provide fodder for groups like the BNP and the English Defence League whose entire constitutions seem to be concerned with purging Britain of Muslims. Those who are seeking to propose a ban are seriously fanning the flames of extreme intolerance.

I don't wear the niqab, but I believe in preserving human rights and international law. There should be no exception to laws preserving human rights, including religious freedom, because, in 1948, we all agreed to guarantee some fundamental freedoms for everyone.

We should now be championing them, not debating whether we can argue out of it in order to appease those who would seek to marginalise the religious beliefs of others, on the premise that the majority appear to disagree with a certain religious practice.

Debates against the hijab have included arguments that it "degrades women" (Nicolas Sarkozy), that it "impedes communication" (Jack Straw), and that it is an "oppressive dress code" (Philip Hollobone, MP). What all of these men fail to do is put their misgivings to one side and ask the fundamental question: does the niqab infringe on the rights of others which are upheld by the law? The answer here is no. Muslim women remove the niqab from their faces if they are required to for the purposes of security and identification.

The response from the Government needs to be clear – that Britain will preserve its human rights obligations regardless of what our neighbours in Europe allow.

Rajnaara Akhtar is a PhD student researching Muslim communities in Britain and the law

Comments